Disguised facial identification
DFI could soon be used to identify masked criminals with easeFEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images

Researchers are working on an AI-powered facial recognition tech that could soon help identify criminals, political dissidents, protesters, or anyone who conceals their identity by covering their face with masks, hats, scarves or sunglasses.

The technology, dubbed Disguised Face Identification (DFI), uses a deep-learning neural network trained on a dataset of images of people using different props to cover their faces with different backgrounds.

It maps 14 facial points (10 for eyes, one for the nose, and three for lips) on a person's face and uses the distance and angles between those points to approximate the hidden facial structure. Finally, the system compares the estimated facial structure with learned images to unveil the actual identity of the person in question.

When put to test, the deep-learning algorithm delivered 56% identification accuracy when the face was covered with hats or scarves. With the addition of glasses, the number went down further to 43%, according to a report in Quartz.

Clearly, the AI-based facial-recognition system is still at a nascent stage and will need a number of improvements before being applied practically. The researchers working on the project - members from the University of Cambridge, National Institute of Technology, and Indian Institute of Science - understand this need and have released datasets of disguised and undisguised faces, calling on others to test and develop the technology.

Still, the research provides a good insight into the possible applications of a technology that could help identify people just by scanning their masked faces. Law enforcement could be a major beneficiary, but at the same time, it could raise alarms for violating the privacy of a number of people who wear hats and scarves.

"This is very interesting for law enforcement and other organisations that want to capture criminals," Amarjot Singh, a researcher at the University of Cambridge who worked on DIF, told Inverse. "The potential applications are beyond imagination."

The group is now preparing to present the research at the IEEE International Conference on Computer Vision Workshop in Venice, Italy.

IBTimes UK has reached out to the team working on the project and will update this story as soon as we hear back.